Finally, the Fulham fans experienced a cup match. For quite some time, it seemed like their highly anticipated evening would be disappointing. Liverpool had taken an early lead with a goal from Luis Díaz, and it will not be a moment that Fulham’s goalkeeper, Bernd Leno, will want to relive.
Fulham required two goals in order to force extra time in the Carabao Cup semi-final. However, it was Liverpool who appeared more confident, as they fought to stay competitive in all four competitions. This was evident when Fulham’s playmaker, Andreas Pereira, made an error in a pass and received boos from the audience.
The spectators who showed up for their team’s infrequent semi-final match – just the eighth in 145 years – were hoping for a glimmer of hope. And finally, it arrived. In the 76th minute, substitute Harry Wilson skillfully passed Conor Bradley to deliver a cross. After a slight deflection, Issa Diop was able to use his thigh to guide the ball into the goal.
The situation became chaotic when Wilson stepped up to take a shot, causing a moment of panic as the ball almost slipped past Caoimhin Kelleher’s grasp and into the goal. The supporters of the white and black team, who had famously chanted “stand up if you still believe” during their previous semi-final against Hamburg in the 2009-10 Europa League, once again cheered on their team.
On that evening, their team achieved an impressive win after trailing behind. However, this time, they were unable to do the same as the cheering from the opposing team’s fans filled the stadium at the end of the game. Liverpool continues on their winning streak, and it is undeniable that they have earned it. Sadly, for Fulham, it was a devastating loss.
The excitement was tangible, the possibility of a memorable evening evident; at least that was the expectation before the match. Fulham rarely plays in these types of matches and the stadium announcer had emphasized the significance of it; reminding the home fans of their role as well.
Jürgen Klopp’s plan was to make adjustments and maintain Liverpool’s strong performance. He has rotated players more than any other manager in the top division this season, and the most notable decision was starting Jarell Quansah instead of Ibrahima Konaté in central defense. Kelleher, Ryan Gravenberch, and Cody Gakpo were also included in the starting lineup.
As the players stepped onto the field for kick-off, the Fulham supporters excitedly waved their black and white flags and set off pyrotechnics. A banner in the Hammersmith End proclaimed “Dare to Dream.” However, Díaz’s early goal quickly dampened the passionate atmosphere.
In the beginning of the match, Fulham showed moments of potential, particularly when João Palhinha received a corner kick from Andreas Pereira at the penalty spot. Palhinha was not being marked and had sufficient time to anticipate the low cross. However, he missed the volley high and Marco Silva reacted with disappointment, perhaps considering that Fulham may come to regret missing such an opportunity, although it was not an easy shot.
Quansah played a big part in the goal that saw Liverpool put the tie in a vice-like grip, shaping a long crossfield diagonal, right to left; the sort of pass that Klopp’s team habitually look for, how they get them up and running.
Díaz and Timothy Castagne teamed up, with Díaz easily winning the duel by collecting the ball on his chest and making a move towards the goal. As Tosin Adarabioyo and Palhinha closed in, Díaz took a shot that resulted in a complicated outcome. Ultimately, the ball deflected and caught goalkeeper Bernd Leno off guard at the near post, causing him to react in frustration. It was a disappointing goal to let in.
The audience at home were eagerly searching for something to support. Not much happened for the rest of the first half. Raúl Jiménez aimed for the far corner with a low shot and Kelleher made a good save. The referee, Simon Hooper, received a lot of criticism but he did not make any major mistakes before the break.
Liverpool maintained composure while in control of the ball during the first half. Fulham lacked the determination and drive needed to compete. The Liverpool players in red embraced the physical challenges and could have increased their lead. Darwin Núñez posed a threat, but was unable to convert his opportunities. Harvey Elliott seemed to thrive off of the negative reception from his former team’s fans; he actively sought out the ball and worked to create scoring opportunities. On the other hand, Leno was relieved when an offside flag was raised after he punched a cross from Elliott that deflected off of Gakpo and narrowly missed the goal. It was a very close call.
At the beginning of the second half, Silva found himself in a difficult situation. He needed to make more progress into Liverpool’s territory, which would require sending more players forward. However, this could also be risky as Liverpool was skilled at quick counterattacks. Díaz and Núñez were not the type of players to leave open space in front of them.
Díaz nearly scored before halftime, but Fulham believed they had a chance to get back in the game. Adarabioyo beat Kelleher to a cross from Willian and headed towards the left side of the six-yard box. The angle was difficult for Pereira and his shot hit the outside of the post.
It was notable that Liverpool quickly retaliated and came close to scoring themselves. Núñez made the last pass and Elliott had a shot on goal, but it was too close to the goalkeeper and he saved it with his legs. Leno also made a fantastic save from a curling shot by Núñez, and the Liverpool striker almost found the top corner after a skillful turn.